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[PHOTOS] The future of energy: 6 next-generation sources

[PHOTOS] The future of energy: 6 next-generation sources

Capturing carbon

Klaus Lackner at Arizona State University is working to develop technologies to capture carbon that’s in the atmosphere and find ways to reuse it or permanently dispose of it. 

"CO2 is a waste that just accumulates in the atmosphere. The more we have, the warmer the climate is going to get," said Lackner.

The ideology is that waste carbon dioxide can be captured from large point sources, such as fossil fuel power plants, and then transport it to a storage site.

Advanced nuclear energy

Another unique energy source researchers are working on is advanced nuclear energy. The technology would use nuclear waste — considered a public health and environmental hazard — to power advanced nuclear reactors. With roughly 270,000 metric tons of nuclear waste globally, advanced nuclear energy would generate enough energy to power the world for about 60 years. However, the problem for scientists is they run into regulations that were built around older technology.

"You can't build a reactor in the back yard," said Sam Brinton, a nuclear engineer. "We're looking for a test bed or an innovation center or somewhere where these amazing startups can all get together, collaborate, be on their own when they need to, but develop these advanced reactors in real time and in real space.”

Earlier this week, the US Department of Energy announced it was investing millions to further develop advanced nuclear reactor designs.

Tidal power

Tidal power, a sister resource to wind, takes advantage of the predictability of the ocean tides to generate electricity, either via estuary barges or directly from the currents themselves via tidal streams. According to the Ocean Energy Council, the ideal area to net the most potential power is an area with a tidal range of at least seven meters. Energy can be generated via floating devices that drive hydraulic pumps, oscillating water columns within cylindrical shafts to create air movement, or hydropower turbines.


Pyrolysis, a form of treatment that chemically decomposes organic materials by heat in the absence of oxygen, is quickly becoming a viable option for energy. The advanced technology would rapidly heat biomasses, such as wood chips or corn stalks, without oxygen to produce a bio-crude that can be used for transportation fuels or to generate electricity.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the pyrolysis process can be self-sustained, as combustion of the syngas and a portion of bio-oil or bio-char can provide all the necessary energy to drive the reaction.  

High-altitude wind mills

Welcome to the future. Scientists and startups are beginning to explore high-altitude wind mills, a unique way of tapping wind energy at high altitudes. One such company is Altaeros Energies, which is building wind turbines inside helium gas-filled industrial blimps that are tied to the ground and able to generate electricity. According to the company, the turbines will generate twice as much energy as conventional turbines.

Solar fuel

Considered one of the “holy-grails” of 21st century chemistry, solar chemical technology essentially harnesses sunlight to create hydrogen, which can be used as fuel or for commercial purposes in cars, trucks and other vehicles. 

"Instead of making starches and sugars that provide sustenance to plants, we're interested in producing transportation fuels ... that are drop-in replacements for the fuels we use now," said Harry Atwater, director at the California Institute of Technology.

"Instead of CO2 being an ever-increasing scourge as a greenhouse gas, we'd like it to become a renewable resource — something we can recycle."

Plus, solar fuel is supported by the man himself, Bill Gates. 

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